Research School Network: Reading fluency and supporting professional development Ruth Everett, Evidence Lead in Education at Unity Research School, on supporting reading fluency in secondary settings.


Reading fluency and supporting professional development

Ruth Everett, Evidence Lead in Education at Unity Research School, on supporting reading fluency in secondary settings.

by Research Schools Network
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Pupils’ ability to access the curriculum relies on reading skill. If their reading isn’t automatic, they overload their working memory when decoding individual words, leaving little capacity to process new information.

Sometimes the explicit teaching of reading fluency is neglected in secondary schools, as it’s assumed that this skill has been mastered in the primary phases. Sadly, it can remain a real barrier to learning for some older students too.

Planning professional development on reading fluency

When delivering training in secondary schools, it is vital to build colleagues’ knowledge around the importance of continually developing reading fluency.

As well as discussing its significance, along with the underlying evidence base, is important to examine how staff can hone their own modelling of reading aloud, so the text becomes more meaningful and engaging for their students. When the teacher, the master’ reader, models fluency in action, a learner who might be struggling with decoding words can listen and process what they hear, without poor word recognition impeding their comprehension.

But what do we mean by reading fluency’ anyway? Establishing a clear shared language in PD is important. Professor Tim Rasinski’s Fluency Rubric is helpful for exploring exactly what we mean by reading fluency. This consists of four particular sub-strands: appropriate pace, smoothness, phrasing and expression/​volume.

Some learners can mistake pace’ with the notion that everything should be read speedily. It’s worth dispelling this misconception. A reader who is comprehending reads at an appropriate pace, not too fast or slow, depending on the text. We’ve all heard students who read rapidly but haven’t understood a word of what they’ve read!

Teachers who’ve bought into the power of reading fluency encourage students to feedback on their own expert modelling, or their peers’ reading, before then giving them opportunities to reread the same text, taking note of the feedback. Repeated reading’ supports students prosodic reading (the apt rise and fall in a reader’s voice), which can in turn improves and deepens comprehension motivation.

Fluency professional development in practice

When delivering professional development, I share a task which I use when teaching Macbeth
to emphasise the power of reading fluency, and inference, as tools to deepen comprehension. At a pivotal point in the play, Macbeth fears murdering King Duncan knowing the dire consequences of being discovered. Sharing his apprehension with his wife, he asks what if the regicide fails? Lady Macbeth’s two-word reply, We fail” forms the focus of our task.

Each of us takes turn to read aloud We fail”, interpreting it in our own way. A reader uses tone and expression to emphasise words, thus adding inferred meaning. Our different renditions demonstrate the power of intonation in interpretation; how it strengthens understanding and secures comprehension.

We further practise modelling reading just as we’d practise modelling a practical science experiment or chest-pass skill in netball.

We move on to discussing different evidence-informed reading aloud fluency strategies to add variety to practice: Echo reading’; paired and chorus reading, in addition to performance; rereading and modelled reading.

The emphasis when teachers are learning about reading fluency can be on developing teaching techniques’. The recent EEF guidance report on Effective Professional Developments’ promotes mechanisms like modelling and rehearsing these teaching techniques to properly embed understanding.

Direct professional development exploring reading fluency can be consolidated by sharing videos of practice. For instance, teachers can record videos of pupils modelling Shakespeare’s monologues and consolidating reading fluency in action. Additionally, grappling with complex sources in history, or re-reading complex maths problems aloud is also likely to offer small but potentially significant benefits.

An ultimate goal is to transfer the skill of oral reading fluency to silent and independent reading. We want our students to hear themselves’ reading with fluency, before then grappling with a challenging text independently, which offers them useful tools to apply when reading independently. When they do this well, we know we’ve increased their chances of reading comprehension and enjoyment in both their reading and learning in the classroom.

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